AW Championships: Point to prove
Jack Nicol provides an in-depth preview to every race on the All-Weather Championships Good Friday card at Lingfield.
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The Inaugural All-Weather Championships comes to an end on Good Friday; the culmination of what has been a great season of all-weather racing this winter.
Like the Dubai World Cup, it just goes to show that if the prize money is put on offer, then the best will turn up and the past months have seen some of the very best British all-weather racing.
As a punter who has a preference for the level, the AW Championships have been a welcome addition to the calendar especially in the darkest depths of winter when the National Hunt circuit is in full flow.
It has certainly been a success for the likes of trainers such as Marco Botti, David Evans and particularly Mark Johnston, who holds an unassailable lead in the trainers' championship with a total of 59 wins.
The scheme has enabled trainers like Johnston and Botti to keep their horses active during the off-season and they have certainly taken advantage, picking up decent prize money along the way, whereas some trainers may have been a bit apprehensive at the idea of a busy all-weather campaign for their charges ahead of the upcoming turf season.
A total of 207 AW fixtures have taken place since October and the £1 million racecard Finals Day at Lingfield Park - the richest all-weather race-day ever staged in Europe - will have been the target of many horses over the winter. There are six category finals - three-year-old, sprint, mile, marathon, fillies/mares and middle distance - whilst the opening apprentice race gives a chance to some up-and-coming jockeys on the big stage.
It is sure to be a fantastic day of racing and a fitting climax to what has been a great season of all-weather action.
Viewpoint - Course winner who looked back to form last time out when finishing a good second behind an exciting prospect; he's unexposed over a mile and a half and is a very useful performer on his day. Cam Hardie takes a useful 3lb off his back and effectively remains on a mark of 89 following his encouraging second. Big player.
Grendisar - There still looks more to come from Marco Botti's four-year-old who has developed from an opening handicap mark of 65 in December 2012 up to a mark of 97 here. The Invincible Spirit's record at Lingfield reads '2-1-2-4-5-1-2' and he is sure to give his running once more.
Scottish Star - Has turned the corner in 2014 with two wins, a second and a third all coming here at Lingfield; he was unlucky not to make it a hat-trick last time out after going down by a short-head and certainly has more to offer at this trip off a mark of 83. Ryan Tate gets on really well with the six-year-old and is likely to be a leading contender here.
The Lock Master - In the form of his life after rattling up a quick-fire hat-trick through February and March and has subsequently seen his handicap mark rise to 93 from 79. Quite remarkably after 48 AW races, this will be his first start at Lingfield and, at seven years of age, he is likely to be vulnerable to an improving type, especially off a career high mark.
Best of the rest - Asia Minor secured a hat-trick of wins last time out and obviously arrives in good heart, whereas Aryal is another to note following three good runs in defeat in March - he could have a bit up his sleeve.
Verdict: 1st Viewpoint, 2nd Scottish Star, 3rd Grendisar
Viewpoint sets the standard following his neck-second behind the useful Brass Ring last time out, he's now had two tries at a mile and a half and, while he is yet to score over this distance, he's given every impression that he sees out the trip well and, with Cam Hardie's 3lb claim taken into acocunt, he is expected to take all the beating here from a good draw in stall 2. Grendisar keeps finding more in his races and loves it around Lingfield, Marco Botti is sure to have him primed for a big run, though, it will be tough giving weight away to a few of these. Scottish Star is in top-form at the moment and is another who catches the eye, it would be folly to ignore his chances considering his course form and he could prove the biggest danger to the selection.
Lingfield October 31 - Forgive (not entered)
Fashion Line - Strong-travelling filly who has improved with each career start; she posted a decent effort when fourth against the boys last time out and was closing at the finish. Back in against her own sex here and the drop down to seven furlongs will not be a problem, especially considering her running style, and is the one to beat.
Interception - Notched a hat-trick of AW wins towards the tail end of 2013 over five (twice) and six furlongs respectively but steps back up to seven furlongs here having finished second on her only other attempt at the distance. Being by Raven's Pass, her pedigree suggests that she'll improve for the step up in distance and must be a major player here, though, stall 14 makes things difficult.
Hannahs Turn - Incredibly consistent filly who does all her best running at Southwell; her only previous efforts at Lingfield saw her finish seventh and ninth respectively, although there's not much depth in quality here and she must hold place claims off a mark of 84.
Burren View Lady - Tim Easterby has his string in good form at the moment and this filly has been a model of consistency all winter, finishing in the first-two on eight of her last 10 starts, a run which has seen her mark rise to 82 from 55 and more is needed following her fifth place finish in open company last time out. She's yet to race at Lingfield but will surely be in the mix if she can transfer her form over from Wolverhampton.
Best of the rest - Ryan Moore gets on well with High Time Too and two decent victories at Kempton could see her in the mix for a place here; while Maggie Pink was unlucky to get nailed late on last time and will be another vying for minor place.
Verdict: 1st Fashion Line, 2nd Interception, 3rd Burren View Lady
Two horses stand out above rest here in, what has to be said, is a disappointing Final considering there are no Pattern-class individuals amongst the field. The two who potentially look capable of that standard, though, are the useful pair of Fashion Line and Interception. The former is the highest-rated in this field and is at least 4lb 'well-in' with all of her rivals here; Michael Bell's filly has improved with each start this season and is proven over a mile following two quick victories at Wolverhampton earlier this year and was by no means disgraced when fourth last time out. Interception is likely to provide the biggest threat to the selection following three good victories last year but her draw in stall 14 combined with her 141-day absence is enough to make her opposable compared to Fashion Line, who, if anything, will be suited by the drop in trip and she can overcome her wide draw to take the spoils here.
Lingfield 23rd Nov - Complicit; Kempton 15th Jan - Alutiq; Lingfield 22nd March - Ertijaal (All entered)
Ertijaal - Likely to come on for his re-appearance where he impressively managed to defy a nightmare draw in stall 14 to win the Listed Spring Cup over course-and-distance by a head from the re-opposing American Hope. It looked at one point that he might just run away with that race but didn't really find much when in front and flashed his tail in the closing stages. Nevertheless, he's the top-rated horse in the field and the one they all have to beat.
Complicit - Course-and-distance winner who has won three times from just five career starts, including when duly winning a fast-track qualifier here at Lingfield with the re-opposing Sir Robert Cheval back in second on his penultimate start. Has subsequently followed that success up with a comfortable victory in an all-weather race in France and must have place claims if fully wound up following a 136-day absence.
Sir Robert Cheval - Looked in need of the run last time out when finishing a staying-on fourth in the aforementioned Spring Cup; Adam Kirby had him further back than I would've liked that day and he was never really in contention. Having made all when winning his maiden, I can envisage Ryan Moore being more aggressive on him this time and he could be the dark horse in the field.
Passing Star - Unbeaten colt who is 3-3 so far, including one victory over course-and-distance on debut as well as two subsequent victories over a mile at Kempton; those victories have entitled him to have a crack at this level but he's only rated 89 and he'll need to find more if he's to get involved here.
Alutiq - One of four fillies in the race and another to catch the eye in the Spring Cup; she may have only finished seventh that day but was beginning to make rapid headway late on having been well out the back early on under Jamie Spencer. Having won a fast-track qualifier, she certainly deserves her place in the line-up and could be one at a bigger price.
Best of the rest - American Hope was only a head behind Ertijaal in the Spring Cup and will obviously have a live chance if he can reproduce that effort this time around; whereas, Major Crispies, who was third that day, may be one for the each-way players.
Verdict: 1st Sir Robert Cheval, 2nd Ertijaal, 3rd Alutiq
Ertijaal sets the clear standard here having overcome the disadvantage of a wide draw to beat a number of these rivals last time out, drawn in stall 4 this time, it is hard to make a case against him and should also strip fitter for that run. Paul Hanagan was reportedly pleased with the victory, albeit a narrow one, and he is still in the 2,000 Guineas at this point and could still be well be up to that standard having done nothing wrong so far in his career whilst his only defeat came at the hands of Toormore on debut. Sir Robert Cheval is drawn next door to Ertijaal in stall 5 and I expect him to be up with the pace this time having been held up last time out; he may have finished behind Complicit on his penultimate run but that came only 10 days after his maiden victory and that may have come too soon. He's very highly regarded by Marco Botti, though, and I feel we are yet to see him at his very best and he could just find a bit more under the brilliant Ryan Moore.
Lingfield 22nd Jan - Arch Villain; Lingfield 1st March - Litigant; Kempton 31st March - Castilo Del Diablo (All entered)
Litigant - Classy Ex-French and Godolphin inmate who was picked up fairly cheaply by current trainer Seamus Durack and has continued where he left off having been useful under former trainer Andre Fabre; figures of '2-1-1' on the all-weather are impressive, including a cosy victory in a fast-track qualifier over course-and-distance last month. The one to beat.
Castilo Del Diablo - Consistent performer who himself is another fast-track winner following his victory at Kempton last time out; he has been reinvigorated on the all-weather this winter but was beaten three lengths by Litigant on his penultimate run and has a bit to find on that form and is likely to find one or two too good once again.
Arch Villain - The third fast-track winner in the field following his narrow success over a couple of these rivals over course-and-distance last time out, he hasn't been seen since but has tremendous record when fresh and one can only assume that was the likely plan from connections following that victory. His penultimate run was better than the bare result suggests having had to give away weight to useful rivals, whilst he is one of only a few horses to clock a quicker time than that set by My Tent Or Yours over two miles at Kempton three runs ago. Leading contender.
Hunting Ground - Joe Fanning has opted to ride him over the top-rated Blue Wave and stamina looks to be Hunting Ground's forte having won very impressively on his only try at two miles three runs ago. He has been campaigned over shorter with the sole objective of getting him qualified for this race and the form of his last two runs should not be taken too seriously, although his close fourth behind Brass Ring last time out could be boosted if Viewpoint lands the opening race on this card. Dark horse.
Blue Wave - As mentioned, this four-year-old was overlooked by Mark Johnston's retained jockey Joe Fanning but comes into the race best at the ratings and retains a live chance based on his four victories on the AW already this year. He doesn't have the best of records at Lingfield compared to his other all-weather form, though, his record at Lingfields reads ' 1-6-3-1-3-5' compared to '4-1-1-1-1' elsewhere.
Best of the rest - Communicator has been running well without ever really threatening this winter but if he managed to put it all together then he'd be a force to be reckoned with; Duchess Of Gazeley only finished a length behind Litigant over course-and-distance three runs ago and reproduction of that could see her in the mix at a big price.
Verdict: 1st Arch Villain, 2nd Hunting Ground, 3rd Litigant
Collateral form has Litigant coming out on top with most of these in here and as a result he is the rightful favourite, he has been very impressive this winter and it is rare to find a stayer who has a turn of foot like he does but, at the prices, he may just be worth taking on with horses he is yet to face. Such horses come in the shape of Arch Villain and Hunting Ground with preference coming for the former. Amanda Perrrett's has been campaigned sparingly this winter but has won two of his three races including one of the aforementioned fast-track qualifiers; he's been off 86 days since his last run but that is no issue as he has a great record when fresh and might prove too strong for Litigant who has clearly had his problems. Hunting Ground is also worth a mention and is 1-1 over two miles and is the first choice on jockey bookings, it would be no surprise to see him in the mix here.
Lingfield 16th Nov - Valbchek; Lingfield 22nd Feb - Tarooq; Lingfield 22nd March - Stepper Point (All entered)
Lancelot Du Lac - Has run with credit on all four AW starts this winter, including one victory, with three of those runs coming when he was a three-year-old against older rivals and he has clearly improved with racing. His only start this year was a tad disappointing, though, when only managing a three-length fifth behind Trinityelitedotcom and also has a little to find with a couple rivals in the race on previous form.
Stepper Point - Decisive winner of a fast-track qualifier over five furlongs last time out and is clearly the highest-rated horse in the field here off a mark off 122; the step up to six furlongs is a big question mark, though, but, such was the manner of his win last time out, he must be a leading player here.
Trinityelitedotcom - Admirably consistent four-year-old whose optimum trip looks over six furlongs these days having seen out an all-the-way success at Kempton very well last time out, although he is equally adept over the minimum trip. He's likely to be duelling for the pace and stall 5 is a nice starting berth to be starting from - solid claims.
Rivellino - Has a good record at Lingfield and was a little unlucky last time out after coming wide when just going down by a head to Tarooq; He's been handed a nightmare draw in stall 13, though, and it will be interesting to see whether waiting tactics will be employed in a race which could be set up for a finisher. With luck, he should be there or thereabouts.
Tarooq - Has been fortunate on both of wins over course-and-distance; Graham Gibbons has been bold on both occasions and has been rewarded with a dream slip up the rails on both occasions, breaking the track record on the first occasion and then taking a fast-track qualifier on the latte . Unlikely he'll get the gaps in such a competitive heat this time, though, and other are preferred.
Valbchek - Big-priced winner of the first fast-track qualifier in this category when returning at 16/1 back in November but has not been seen since, he'd been taken to Dubai by Jeremy Noseda but picked up an injury and was put away for this race instead. Reportedly in good form again at home, but likely to find a couple of these too good after a prolonged absence.
Best of the rest - Addictive Dream, Even Stevens and Ballista will all ensure that this run will be run at a break-neck pace and that could suit a finisher in the shape of Hawkeyethenoo if the race was to fall apart; those drawn low are likely to come to the fore.
Verdict: 1st Stepper Point, 2nd Trinityelitedotcom, 3rd Rivellino
A wide-open contest where feasible cases can be made for pretty much every runner if the stars aligned; current favourite Lancelot Du Lac is one to take on following a few runs behind a few of these rivals whilst Tarooq has had the rub of the green in his races and is another to overlook. Stepper Point was a really taking winner last time out and I don't see why the step up to six furlongs will be any problem, especially round Lingfield, he's clear at the ratings and is one to follow into the turf season. Trinityelitedotcom is sure to run his race and is feared as the chief danger to the selection, while Rivellino can get competitive if overcoming a nightmare draw.
Kempton 20th Nov - Sirius Prospect; Lingfield 11th Jan - Grey Mirage; Wolverhampton 8th March - Chookie Royale (All entered)
Grey Mirage - A great servant this season for Marco Botti having notched three victories a second and a third; he broke the track record here at Lingfield over seven furlongs last time out under Ryan Moore and the fact he is back on board again can only be seen as a positive. He has a poor draw this time, though, and I have doubts over his stamina.
Captain Cat - Plans were aborted to run in the Lincoln at Doncaster on account of the soft ground and has been re-routed here by in-form trainer Roger Charlton. He's got a little to find on official raitngs but is clearly improving and is very effective on the all-weather surface. Big chance.
Chookie Royale - Loves it over at Wolverhampton and has posted some impressive performances this season; poor runs have sandwiched his runaway success at the aforementioned track two runs ago and will probably find a coupld of these too good now that he's on a retrieval mission following his dismal run last time out.
George Guru - Very consistent seven-year-old who is still full of running, his record at Lingfield reads favourably and has really come back to himself on the all-weather having lost his way in the summer of 2013. Two course-and-distance victories mean he's got to be respected here and gets on well with Rab Havlin.
Alfred Hutchinson - Record at Lingfield reads '3-1-1-3-1-5' and may have been underestimated following a slightly disappointing run last time out at Wolverhampton, a track which he has never sparkled at. On his best form, at Lingfield, he's as good as any of these and could represent the value in the race.
Best of the rest - Sirius Prospect won the first of the three fast-track qualifiers for this category but I have doubts over that form and his record after a break hardly breeds confidence; Anaconda has a good record here at Lingfield and this five-year-old could cause a shock if things fall right.
Verdict: 1st Captain Cat, 2nd Alfred Hutchinson, 3rd Grey Mirage
If this had been over seven furlongs then make no mistake about it, Grey Mirage, would be the nap of the day; but, while he has won twice over course-and-distance, I still have reservations about his stamina, particularly against these rivals and, having followed him all season, he has to be overlooked. Captain Cat has no such question marks surrounding his stamina and having run subsequent Winter Derby winner, Robin Hoods Bay, all the way last time out he is the selection here. His AW record reads '1-2-2' including a victory over a mile at Kempton three runs back and still looks be improving, albeit he needs to off a mark of 99 here. Chookie Royale's bubble looked to be burst on the turf at Doncaster last time out, whilst George Guru is sure to be in the shake-up; Alfred Hutchinson is another to note and he may have slipped under the radar, he's a dual CD winner and has been a little unlucky lately - he's one to keep on side.
Lingfield 16th Nov -Prince Alzain; Lingfield 22nd Feb - Grandeur; Lingfield 22nd March - Robin Hoods Bay (Grandeur and Robin Hoods Bay entered)
Grandeur - Course-and-distance winner in the Winter Derby Trial but followed that up with a no-show when drawn out wide in stall 14 and subsequently was never in contention in the Winter Derby proper. He'll need forgiving for that run if punters are to back him but the draw did seem to play a part and the cheek-pieces are now left off. The one to beat.
Robin Hoods Bay - Winner of the Winter Derby and final fast-track qualifier in this category; his record over 10 furlongs at LIngfield reads '2-4-3-1-2-1-4-1' and that are very impressive form figures and must come into everyone's calculations. His running style means he needs a little bit of luck and that might just see him come up short.
Solar Deity - Two wins from three starts here at Lingfield and was a very unlucky second on his last run in the UK over the extended nine furlongs at Wolverhampton and that breeds confidence that he'll be able to see out the 10 furlongs here. Conditions weren't really in his favour in Dubai but still ran with plenty of credit, getting going too late on a couple of occasions; he returns fit and in good heart and it would be no surprise to see him cause a minor shock.
Marshgate Lane - Hasn't run for 125 days but brings rock-solid form into the race following a course-and-distance victory on his penultimate run and that a narrow success when just holding on last time out. Mark Johnston can ready them when it matters so his absence shouldn't be a n issue but he has a little bit to find on official ratings and others are preferred.
Best of the rest - Aussie Reigns wasn't far behind Robin Hoods Bay last time out and reproduction of that effort could see him in with place claims; Dick Doughtywylie is another consistent performer an dwill be looking to improve on his fourth place finish last time out.
Verdict: 1st Solar Deity, 2nd Robin Hoods Bay, 3rd Grandeur
The 115-rated Grandeur is the class horse in the race here but was never in contention against many of these rivals from a nightmare draw in stall 14 last time out; he's been handed stall 2 this time around and with a clear run you'd imagine he'll be very hard to beat. His victory in the Winter Derby Trial on his penultimate run over course-and-distance showed exactly what he's capable of is the one they all have to beat. Solar Deity could be up to lowering Grandeur's colours, though, he'd been a model of consistency at the back end of 2013 over a mile and nine furlongs before heading out to Dubai where a couple of placed efforts more than paid for his trip. He returns as a fit horse and is still unexposed over ten furlongs; he could just represent the value in the race. Robin Hoods Bay will be charging late on and if Grandeur or Solar Deity fail to fire than this six-year-old can take advantage.